Thursday, 20 August 2015

Things I love about running - item #422

One of the reasons that running has become so adhered to my personality is that for all its monotonous appearance, it is one of the most complex things that the body can do. Throughout my adult life I have been relearning how to run (I think we unlearn the skill through childhood). And bit by bit, my form has become more evenly balanced and more symmetrical. But at the age of 46, I am still learning quite big things about quite big muscles.

When I went to Boston earlier this year on an Arts Council trip, I spent some time with Dr Irene Davis, one of the world's most renowned experts in the biomechanics of running, and among other things, she let me sit in on a patient appraisal. The patient had recently done an Iron Man but had been left with a nagging bit of ITB pain. His initial consultation lasted three hours in which he was carefully assessed by Irene and another physical therapist. Their conclusions drawn, he had some imbalances, but the main thing was that he wasn't firing his glutes when running.

The tripartite gluteal muscles are the largest muscle group in the body, and our biggest muscle, the 'gluteus maximus', is what gives our bums their shape. This is a lot of muscle to be doing nothing while running. If you are not using it you may as well stick ten kilos of sand in a backpack and carry that, too.  Irene's aim was to retrain this runner focussing on a number of things, but mainly to get his ass working.  She said that in some extreme circumstances, she had even grabbed a butt and said something like 'come on, squeeze there!' in order to help runners understand what they needed to do. (There is nothing like haptic feedback for learning new motor skills).

biomechanics assessment 
from the Spaulding National Running Center.

I learned so many things about running and runners in the short time that I spent with Irene at the Spaulding National Running Center (some are in my book and some are in article due out in the Telegraph in a fortnight). But having 'active glutes' left me scratching my head. I tried to feel if I had? I tried squeezing my butt cheeks together when I ran like I was holding a coin up there or something, but that just felt impossibly peculiar (and must have looked even stranger as I tried to run with semi-locking knees). Then, today, the penny dropped (not literally because I never actually tried that).  I didn't need someone highly trained to lean over a treadmill at a clinic and grab my ass, I could grab my own.  So here, in the old fishing village of Aldeburgh, on a rainy and windy August day, I did just that.  Checking that I had no audience, I put one hand on a cheek and could feel that sure enough, my glutes were not firing. All was soft as a favoured pillow.

The look out in Aldeburgh, the view from my window
I tried tensing the muscles again, but this didn't work and messed up my form too much. So I started pushing off a bit more from my glutes, and it was really easy to feel the difference. I felt my pelvis straighten (lifting my tendency to anterior pelvic tilt). I felt stronger at toe-off. My centre of gravity felt like it moved forward.  It seemed to fix things with my form that usually require focus and concentration.  That's it!

It's early days, yet - so I don't know what difference it will make. And all changes to form have to be done slowly. But as I returned to the Centre of town I toned down the butt feeling though was able to continue firing the muscle group. I urge you to give it a go.

I am just so amazed that something so seemingly simple as running can still be offering up new things to try after thousands and thousands and thousands of miles have gone by under foot.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Footnotes: Running Experiences


Come share your tales of poetry in motion at this spoken word Open Mic night

Weds, 2nd September at the Amersham Arms (7.30) in New Cross, nr Goldsmiths. £4 on the door.


Tues, 8th September at The Minories Art Gallery Colchester, 7.30. £4 on the door

This is a new event that aims to bring together runners of all abilities to share their stories, successes, failures, sprains, sprints and splints. Come and take part by reading a short essay, story, or poem. Have an opportunity to express your way of running, and how it impacts on you, your emotional and physical experiences.

Featured guests are:

Writer, Vybarr Cregan-Reid - will read from his forthcoming book, Footnotes: running, landscape & the way we live now. The book is a  psychogeography of running that darts between poetry, philosophy, neuroscience, history, paleoanthropology, and biomechanics. It is a running book for those that love the new nature writing. Vybarr has written for The Guardian, The Telegraph, and will be reading from his work on Radio 4's Open Book next week. He is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Kent.

  • "When Vybarr Cregan-Reid set out to discover why running meant so much to so many, he began a journey which would take him out not only to tread London’s streets, but climbing to sites that have seen a millennium of hangings, or down the crumbling alleyways of Ruskin's Venice.  Footnotes will transport you to the cliff tops of Hardy's Dorset, the deserted shorelines of Seattle, the giant redwood forests of California, and to the world’s most advanced running laboratories and research centres, using debates in literature, philosophy and biology to explore that simple human desire to run."

Artist, Veronique Chance - she will be telling tales of her astounding M25 Great Orbital Run a solitary run and artwork that took place in March2012 over nine consecutive days around the inside boundary of the M25 London Orbital. Véronique will read extracts from her daily blog entries written during the time period of the run. A speeded up recorded version of the work will provide a projected backdrop. Veronique is based in London and has a studio at APT studios, Deptford. She has shown artworks nationally and internationally, including China, Canada, Korea, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Holland and France. She is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for the MA Fine and MA Printmaking courses at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and completed her PhD at Goldsmith's College in 2012.

Exercise scientist, Mike Rogerson - will be explaining some of the latest research from the University of Essex's Green Exercise Research Group.  How can our choice of environmental setting influence desirable outcomes of running?  Mike is a completion-year PhD candidate with previous degrees in Sports & Exercise Science (BSc Hons) and in Psychology (MSc).  He has guest lectured on his area of expertise at Queensland University of Technology and Technische Universität München, and holds a seat on parkrun’s Research Board.  Mike’s research has been published in scientific journals and featured via interview by Reuters and Cycling Fitness Magazine.

The evening will re-engage audiences with their environment and themselves, taking the audience from their demanding and structured lives on to new pathways and in to the wild. Reconnecting them to landscape and encouraging their minds to play, and to have a beer and a chat about running.